IT salaries 2015: Cash is back!

Companies that desperately need hot IT skills are ratcheting up salaries and bonuses to lure talented tech workers. Here's how to grab your fair share.

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The road to a better salary

Despite strong compensation gains overall in 2015, slightly more than half (54%) of Computerworld survey respondents said that they feel underpaid based on their roles and responsibilities — up slightly from 52% in 2014 and 51% in 2013 and 2012. That sentiment may be the result of years of corporate belt-tightening, when salaries barely inched up while IT staffers were asked to take on more responsibilities and heavier workloads.

"There are many people who have been hunkered down at their current job, maybe since the last economic downturn, and they don't know what's happening in the marketplace," Reed says. "They might be worth much more than they're receiving."

If you're looking for a big raise, it's important to do some research and know what your value is. "Look at job listings online, see in what ranges companies are paying, talk to your peer network — that's where it all starts," Reed says.

If, after doing the research, you've decided you're worth more than you're earning, try approaching your current employer. "Before throwing yourself out in the marketplace, go to your existing employer, armed with your salary research, and ask for a raise," Reed advises. "There may be an opportunity to get a pay increase where you are."

But don't challenge your employer with big demands, he cautions. "Just because the market is paying higher than you're making doesn't mean you're necessarily going to find a new job that pays you that much," Reed says. Issuing an ultimatum "is a huge mistake that has blown up on people many times."

Angela Yochem, BDP International's global CIO, chats with IT recruiter Suzanne Fairlie about why you should never demand a raise from your employer -- and what to do instead.
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The next step, says Reed, is a skills assessment. Identify the hottest skills in the market, the ones that will help drive up your compensation. If your expertise is lacking or outdated, take a course, even online, or get a certification.

Nothing — not even training or a certification — replaces hands-on experience in a hiring manager's eyes, he notes. But if a company can't find someone with years of experience and "it comes down to you and another candidate with comparable skills, [a certification] will give you a leg up," Reed says.

Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2015: Career Worries [chart]

For his part, DHR's DiFranco sees courses and certifications as a long-term strategy. A new skill certification alone won't impress a headhunter, he says. "A search firm is already bringing in people with three to five years of experience [in a particular skill] to a company," he explains. Instead, he advises IT employees to figure out the newest technologies that their current company needs, then get the appropriate training and ask to be involved.

"You're already a proven commodity" at your current employer, he says. "They're going to give you a chance if you have the credentials, more so than someone on the outside giving you a chance." Putting your new skills to work at your current employer will give you the experience you need to compete in the job market — and might land you a raise or a promotion at your current company.

If you're really ready to take the leap to a new job, don't just throw your résumé out on an Internet job board — your boss or someone else from your company could see it. "It doesn't take long for someone on the inside to find your résumé posted, and it may backfire on you" Reed says. "Your loyalty comes into question, and you might find yourself looking for a job because now you don't have a job."

Instead, tap into technical user groups and professional organizations, participate in networking events, and communicate with IT people who travel in the circles that you do. That's the way to find out who's hiring, what skills they're seeking and what they're paying. "Those are the things that will lead you to better compensation," Reed says.

Finally, recruiters or staffing firms can help you find a higher-paying position quickly, says the Chicago-based senior design and development engineer. He used two different recruiters to find each of his last two positions, and he emphasizes that the second recruiter found him his current job in just two days and "was able to get me what I wanted in terms of salary."

Suzanne Fairlie and Angela Yochem discuss why asking for a counter-offer from your current employer when you have a job offer is never a good idea.
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Mostly sunny skies ahead

The IT career outlook is improving from year to year, according to the Computerworld survey. Asked where they expect to be five years from now, 52% of this year's respondents said they anticipate being in higher-level positions, either with their current employers or at new organizations. In contrast, just 37% of the 2014 survey respondents said they expected to move up the ranks within the ensuing five years.

Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2015: Career Outlook [chart]

Recruiting firms are also cautiously optimistic, expecting the IT labor market to remain strong over the next 12 to 18 months as companies seek to innovate and gain a competitive edge through technology. "They're not backing off their investments in technology, and that's why it will be a pretty solid [employment] picture," Reed says. "You have to have the people to execute it."

That means IT professionals have a chance to position themselves for big raises. "In my company, when they think of security, they think of me — I'm their first call," Lorenc says. "Once you're in that position, it gives you a lot of opportunities."

Next: In hot jobs market, IT workers call the shots

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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